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[kahr-dn-l] /ˈkɑr dn l/
of prime importance; chief; principal:
of cardinal significance.
of the color cardinal.
Roman Catholic Church. a high ecclesiastic appointed by the pope to the College of Cardinals and ranking above every other ecclesiastic but the pope.
Also called cardinal grosbeak. a crested grosbeak, Cardinalis cardinalis, of North America, the male of which is bright red.
any of various similar birds.
a deep, rich red color.
a woman's short cloak with a hood, originally made of scarlet cloth and popularly worn in the 18th century.
before 1150; Middle English, Old English < Latin cardinālis, equivalent to cardin- (stem of cardō) hinge, hence, something on which other things hinge + -ālis -al1
Related forms
cardinally, adverb
cardinalship, noun
intercardinal, adjective
postcardinal, adjective
subcardinal, adjective
subcardinally, adverb
uncardinally, adverb Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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Examples from the web for cardinals
  • The chamberlain cuts the ring in two in the presence of the cardinals.
  • He was the last pope to be elected from outside the college of cardinals.
  • Louis cardinals in the final days of the season in a memorable series.
  • He is the only member of the college of cardinals to have suffered martyrdom.
  • Louis cardinals also found themselves unhappy with their shortstop.
British Dictionary definitions for cardinals


(RC Church) any of the members of the Sacred College, ranking next after the pope, who elect the pope and act as his chief counsellors
Also called cardinal red. a deep vivid red colour
Also called cardinal grosbeak, (US) redbird. a crested North American bunting, Richmondena (or Pyrrhuloxia) cardinalis, the male of which has a bright red plumage and the female a brown one
a fritillary butterfly, Pandoriana pandora, found in meadows of southern Europe
a woman's hooded shoulder cape worn in the 17th and 18th centuries
(usually prenominal) fundamentally important; principal: cardinal sin
of a deep vivid red colour
(astrology) of or relating to the signs Aries, Cancer, Libra, and Capricorn Compare mutable (sense 2), fixed (sense 10)
Derived Forms
cardinally, adverb
Word Origin
C13: from Latin cardinālis, literally: relating to a hinge, hence, that on which something depends, principal, from cardō hinge
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for cardinals



early 12c., "one of the ecclesiastical princes who constitute the sacred college" (short for cardinalis ecclesiae Romanae or episcopus cardinalis), from Latin cardinalis "principal, chief, essential" (see cardinal (adj.)).

Ecclesiastical use began for the presbyters of the chief (cardinal) churches of Rome. The North American songbird (Cardinalis virginianus) is attested from 1670s, so named for its resemblance to the cardinals in their red robes.


"chief, pivotal," early 14c., from Latin cardinalis "principal, chief, essential," from cardo (genitive cardinis) "that on which something turns or depends; pole of the sky," originally "door hinge," of unknown origin. Related: Cardinally.

The cardinal points (1540s) are north, south, east, west. The cardinal sins (c.1600) are too well known to require rehearsal. The cardinal virtues (c.1300) were divided into natural (justice prudence, temperance, fortitude) and theological (faith, hope, charity). The natural ones were the original classical ones, which were amended by Christians. But typically in Middle English only the first four were counted as the cardinal virtues:

Of þe uour uirtues cardinales spekeþ moche þe yealde philosofes. ["Ayenbite of Inwyt," c.1340]
By analogy of this, and cardinal points, cardinal winds, cardinal signs (four zodiacal signs marking the equinoxes and the solstices), the adjective in Middle English acquired an association with the number four.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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cardinals in Culture

cardinals definition

A group of prominent bishops of the Roman Catholic Church who advise the pope and elect new popes.

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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